Bengals vs Vikings: Week 1 NFL preview

The Minnesota Vikings will hit the road to kick off the 2021 NFL season and square off with the Cincinnati Bengals during Sunday’s early wave of Week 1 action. Continue reading for our full game preview and key matchups to keep an eye on.

See how the Vikings and Bengals stack up in our latest NFL power rankings

Cincinnati Bengals vs Minnesota Vikings: What you need to know

Joe Burrow vs Kirk Cousins

Cincinnati Bengals vs Minnesota Vikings: What you need to know
Jul 29, 2021; Cincinnati, OH, United States; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) throws a pass during training camp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, yes. The Vikings are still rolling with Kirk Cousins. To be fair, he’s a solid, above-average starting quarterback. It just feels like there’s a ceiling for this team with him under center. Captain Kirk is also facing a Bengals secondary that’s clearly the strength of their roster at this point.

Lukewarm though the reception may be toward another year of Cousins, there’s a bit of apprehension when it comes to Joe Burrow. Cincinnati’s No. 1 overall draft pick from a year ago got crushed behind a horrid offensive line in 2020, leading to a season-ending knee injury he’s still working his way back from.

  • Burrow’s Body Language: It’ll be telling how confident Burrow feels on his surgically-repaired knee based on how he plays. Although his receiving corps looks good on paper, Burrow may not have the same feel in the pocket, or the typical swagger fans have come to revere.
  • Kirk’s Quest: It’s playoffs or bust for Cousins this year. If he falls short, he’ll likely get traded next offseason. Even though it’s a road trip, this is a very winnable game for Minnesota in Week 1. Cousins should have plenty of clean looks off play-action passes, and must capitalize.

Advantage: Minnesota Vikings

What should the Houston Texans do with Deshaun Watson?

Click here for Sportsnaut’s NFL playoff predictions and projected 2022 Super Bowl winner

Bengals front seven vs Vikings offensive line

Bengals vs Vikings: Week 1 NFL preview
Nov 1, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) scores a touchdown after catching a short pass in the third quarter during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

That cliche that the game of football is won and lost in the trenches? Well, it’s commonly cited for a reason. The Vikings and Bengals struggled up front on offense last year, and while many will look at Cincinnati’s revamped unit, Minnesota’s will go a longer way in deciding the outcome of this contest.

The Vikings’ zone-based rushing attack requires timing and finesse. They have a huge margin for error thanks to the greatness of elite tailback Dalvin Cook, though. What the Bengals really need is for their front seven to step up, because they were flat-out awful in 2020.

  • Hendrickson Needs to Rock: Cincinnati lured Trey Hendrickson away from New Orleans, valuing his 13.5 sacks from last year. Hendrickson isn’t playing with Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport anymore, though. The Vikings can exploit Hendrickson’s vulnerability against the run and gash Cincinnati’s unproven linebacker corps.
  • Darrisaw Down: Unfortunately, the first-round left tackle Minnesota was so excited about, Christian Darrisaw, is out after undergoing surgery. While there’s still a chance he could play on Sunday, the uncertainty surrounding his status has to have the visitors at least a little uneasy.

Advantage: Minnesota Vikings

Ja’Marr Chase vs Justin Jefferson

Bengals vs Vikings: Week 1 NFL preview
Sep 21, 2019; Nashville, TN, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (1) celebrates with LSU Tigers wide receiver Justin Jefferson (2) after a touchdown during the first half against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The former LSU teammates were a dynamic duo alongside Burrow on a loaded Tigers roster that won the 2019 national championship. Based on their respective trajectories, at that time, you’d be forgiven if you thought Chase would have the far better outlook going forward.

But no. In 2020, Justin Jefferson slid to 22nd overall in the NFL Draft, while Ja’Marr Chase opted out of the college football season. Jefferson set the league on fire as a rookie. Chase got drafted with the fifth pick, and by all accounts, has struggled mightily in training camp as he keeps knocking off the rust.

  • Chase-ing The Hype: The innate chemistry Chase has with Burrow should allow him to eventually knock off the rust. The question is, when will everything come together? Even if Chase balls out in 2021, he won’t match Jefferson’s production, and it won’t be enough to help the Bengals stay competitive in the AFC.
  • Jefferson Jaded in The Best Way: With 88 receptions for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns last season, Jefferson used the chip on his shoulder from being the fifth receiver selected in his class to get off to a phenomenal start in the pros. No reason think he’ll slow down with a fuller offseason to prepare.

Advantage: Minnesota Vikings

The bottom line: Vikings coach Mike Zimmer spent six years as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator before leaving for Minnesota. The uncertainty surrounding Burrow should help Zimmer get enough stops early on Sunday to blow this game open against his ex-team. Cincinnati will score in garbage time to make the final score closer than it appears.

WATCH: Sportsnaut’s Carolyn Manno on the latest NFL rumors